The Bowdlers

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Reginald Fitz-Urse (1145–1173)

Reginald Fitz-Urse (1145 – 1173), infamous as the lead murderer of Thomas à Becket (1118?-70), was a grandson of Baldwin de Boulers:

Baldwin de Boulers = Sibyl Falaise illeg.da. of King Henry I

lord of Montgomery |

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Stephen de Boulers    Matilda de Boulers = Richard FitzUrse

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                          Mabel FitzUrse       Reginald FitzUrse

Reginald was the eldest son of Richard Fitzurse, on whose death about 1168 he inherited the manor of Williton, Somersetshire (COLLINSON, iii. 487); he also held the manor of Barham, Kent (HASTED, iii. 536), and lands in Northamptonshire (Liber Niger, p. 216). He is sometimes called a baron, for he held of the king in chief.

Reginald FitzUrse was one of the four knights who were stirred up by the hasty words of Henry II to plot the archbishop's death, the others being Hugh de Morville, William de Traci and Richard Brito. King Henry was purported to shout: "What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest."

The king's exact words have been lost to history but his outrage inspired the four knights to sail to England. They left Bures, near Bayeux, where the king then was, and proceeded, it is said, by different routes to England, all meeting at Saltwood, then held by Ranulf de Broc, on 28 Dec. 1170. The next day they set out with a few men, and having gathered reinforcements, especially from the abbot of St. Augustine's, at whose house they halted, they entered the archbishop's hall after dinner, probably about 3 P.M., and demanded to see him. Reginald told him that he bore a message from the king, and took the most prominent and offensive part in the interview which ensued (FITZSTEPHEN, Becket, iii. 123, Vita anon., ib. iv. 71). He had been one of Thomas's tenants or men while he was chancellor; the archbishop reminded him of this; the reminder increased his anger, and he called on all who were on the king's side to hinder the archbishop from escaping.

When the knights went out to arm and post their guards, Reginald compelled one of the archbishop's men to fasten his armour, and snatched an axe from a carpenter who was engaged on some repairs. While Thomas was being forced by his monks to enter the church, the knights entered the cloister, and Reginald was foremost in bursting into the church, shouting "King's men!". He met the archbishop, and after some words tried to drag him out of the church. Thomas called him pander, and said that he ought not to touch him, for he owed him fealty.

After the murder had been done the knights rode to Saltwood, glorying, it is said, in their deed (Becket, iv. 158), though William de Tracy afterwards declared that they were overwhelmed with a sense of their guilt. On the 31st they proceeded to South Malling, near Lewes, one of the archiepiscopal manors, and there it is said a table cast their armour from off it (ib. ii. 285).

They were excommunicated by the pope, and the king advised them to flee into Scotland. There, however, the king and people were for hanging them, so they were forced to return into England (ib. iv. 162).

They took shelter in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, which belonged to Hugh Morville, and remained there a year (BENEDICT, i. 13). Hugh Morville was witness to a grant by Reginald FitzUrse of a moiety of Williton and its house to his brother Robert and the other moiety to the Templars as alms for his soul.

All shunned them and even dogs refused to eat morsels of their meat (ib. p. 14). At last they were forced by hunger and misery to give themselves up to the king. He did not know what to do with them, for as murderers of a priest they were not amenable to lay jurisdiction (NEWBURGH, ii. 157; JOHN OF SALISBURY, Epp. ii. 273); so he sent them to the pope, who could inflict no heavier penalty than fasting and banishment to the Holy Land. He and his companions are said to have performed their penance in the Black Mountain (various explanations of this name have been given; none are satisfactory; it was evidently intended to indicate some place, probably a religious house, near Jerusalem), to have died there, and to have been buried at Jerusalem before the door of the Templars' church (HOVEDEN, ii. 17). It was believed that all died within three years of the date of their crime. There are some legends about their fate (STANLEY).

FitzUrse left only daughters, one of whom was wife of a fitzBaldwin of Rhyd-y-gors, Pembrokshire to whose family she brought Montgomery Castle.  According to Welsh genealogies, William fitzBaldwin's daughter married the son of Walter or William de Lacy who became lord of Rhyd-y-gors and Menorgain and took his surname of Gwyntwr or Winter from Castell Gwyn.